SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. – Health experts across the country urge Americans to get their flu shot every year but this year, there’s one reason in particular they’re asking people to get vaccinated early: the coronavirus pandemic.
The world is already battling one respiratory virus right now and the last thing we need is to see is two simultaneously spreading throughout our communities, health officials emphasized during a news conference in Seminole County on Friday.
“If there is any season you need to get your flu shot, this is the one,” Dr. Tim Hendrix, with Advent Health Centra Care said. “We don’t want people getting flu and COVID simultaneously.”
Donna Walsh, with the Florida Department of Health in Seminole County, said having both illnesses could lead to more serious health complications.
“Anytime that you have infection from more than one particular virus or bacteria that affects your respiratory system, you can develop even more serious complications so really important to get your flu vaccine early,” Walsh said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends people get their flu shot by the end of October but according to Walsh, the sooner people can get vaccinated for the flu, the better, especially those who are planning to receive a COVID-19 vaccine once it’s available.
Walsh said Friday they’re encouraging early flu shots because it takes a few weeks for the body to respond to it. She also said people likely won’t be able to get their COVID-19 and flu vaccines at the same time, once the coronavirus vaccine is made available to the public.
“But again, it takes a couple of weeks at least for your body to develop protection when you receive the vaccine so you want to get it soon. And also, what we’re hearing preliminarily right now with the COVID-19 vaccine is when it does arrive, you can’t get that and a flu vaccine together. You have to get it at least two to three weeks apart,” she said.
It’s unclear how soon a COVID-19 vaccine will be available but President Trump has said we could see at least one before the end of the year. Walsh said flu season typically peaks in Florida from January to February.
Seminole County Medical Director Dr. Todd Husty said we should treat the flu the same way we’re treating the coronavirus, by taking every precaution possible to stop the spread.
“COVID is a respiratory virus, we’re taking precautions against COVID and against the spread of the respiratory virus -- (precautions) that work: masks, social distancing, they work, they work really well. But we also have noticed that COVID sneaks out, even with the protections that we’re doing, it sneaks out into the community, it still spreads. And that’s how we kind of have to look at the flu," Husty said. "We should take every precaution we can to keep the spread of the flu down. We have a better choice -- another choice, another add-on to help decrease the chance of getting the flu and that’s just getting a flu shot.”
Husty tried to clear up some common misconceptions about the flu shot during Friday’s news conference.
He said the shot doesn’t hurt too badly and that, contrary to popular belief, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot.
“They don’t hurt that much. It hardly hurt at all. You can get a sore arm, you can get some side effects, some people,” he said. “You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. I mean, I know that people think that you can but you cannot get the flu from a flu shot.”
Walsh said children and infants, as well as pregnant women and people 65 and older, especially with underlying health conditions, are considered most at risk for the flu.
The health department is offering free flu shots for children and adults Oct. 24. Details on how to register to receive a free vaccine can be found here or by calling 407-665-3700. Residents can also receive a flu vaccine at their local pharmacy.
True Health, a private nonprofit health care organization in Central Florida, has seven locations throughout Orange and Seminole counties where individuals can get tested for both COVID-19 and influenza, according to a spokeswoman for the organization. Vaccines are also available at their locations.